Waltham Bookstore Owner Launches a Different ‘Type’ of Fundraiser

Alex Green wants to share his passion for the letterpress with the general public.

Photo via Alex Green/Back Pages Books

Photo via Alex Green/Back Pages Books

In a world of fast-paced connectivity, digital books, and face-to-face interactions using electronics, Alex Green finds solace when poring over a letterpress, meticulously placing each individual letter into the machine—for hours on end—in order to print poems and select works of literature.

“I love it. Just with poetry alone, how many chances do you get in this day and age to spend a month with a single poem?,” said Green, owner of Back Pages Books in Waltham, a small, independently run shop situated on the busy stretch of Moody Street. Each time Green prints a single poem using a letterpress, a machine that dates back to the 15th century, it can take him anywhere from a few weeks to nearly 1,000 hours.

“For a lot of people, that might sound like purgatory, but for me, it’s my idea of heaven,” said Green, who has been perfecting his art on the letterpress for the last five years. “To go through one letter at a time and create empty space on a page when you do this—it’s really for me where I put my soul as a book seller.”

The problem is, Green doesn’t have his own device, and he relies on the good-natured people within his circle of bookstore owners and fellow hand-printed poem makers to complete each project—a task that is both laborious and requires a lot of heavy lifting. Once the small, metal pieces are perfectly aligned and ready for printing, a letterpress case can weigh up to 70 pounds in some cases. And in order for Green to get from shop to shop, he has to transport the large cases on the bus, and sometimes even packed trains. “It’s a little insane,” he said, laughing about the scenario when he’s riding public transit. “Sitting on the 70 bus with a giant steel tray loaded up with magnets—you get suspicious of people next to you because if they bump into you and spill your tray, you’ll have to start all over. It’s exhausting; it can be a really exhausting process.”

To solve these issues, Green has decided—after many years—that it’s time for his own letterpress, which he wants to harbor inside Back Pages Books and open up to the public for lessons and classes. To do that, he launched a fundraiser page last week and is relying on the help of supporters and donors. “Waltham is sort of an awesome place to do this type of thing. It’s a very supportive community,” he said. “The main focus is to actually have the press and to be able to start printing in the shop. I have a large list of projects that I would like to jump into. The way [having my own letterpress] would change things is immeasurable.”

Green, who has worked with Pulitzer Prize winners and even a Nobel Laureate to create prints, which he often frames and mounts in his shop, launched his Indiegogo campaign last week, and already he’s raised more than $7,000 of his $17,000 goal.

He hopes to hit that mark by mid-April. “Just to be able to walk down and work on one of these, rather than schlepping this giant thing of lettering around, would reduce the medieval aspects of the whole process by about 50 percent,” said Green.

Although his devotion to the letterpress is a lot of work, and involves patience, a sort of obsessive mentality, and very limited room for any mistakes, Green’s passion for the press outweighs the bulky, awkward boxes that hold the pieces of metal he needs to create each project. “It’s almost like a religious space. It feels that way for me, like a monastic experience,” he said. “It’s an art of a higher order than I may have given it credit for. Oftentimes what happens to folks, is they put their heads down and lose sight of time, but if you’re lucky, and you find something you enjoy, you get to look up and appreciate what you’re doing sometimes.”

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  • Jennifer A. Nolan

    Hi, Alex!

    I don’t visit you often enough, but seeing you mentioned in “Boston” is so exciting! This should be good for your small, community-centered business.

    Next Tuesday, I should stop by and ask what your printing projects will be. I would like to take one or two home with me.

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  • Kaytie Dowcett

    $3000 left to raise in 4 days! Please watch Alex’s quirky and beautiful indiegogo video and consider contributing. You’ll get some gorgeous artwork in return!
    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/back-pages-a-letterpress-shop